Kuthodaw Pagoda Inscriptions
Kuthodaw Pagoda inscriptions of Mandalay, Myanmar
Mandalay was founded in upper Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1857 and the Kuthodaw Pagoda is one of the city's earliest structures. This 5.2 hectare site contains 729 marble stelae upon which is inscribed an authorized mid-nineteenth century Myanmar recension of the Pali canon, the primary scriptures of Theravāda Buddhism. Each of these stelae varies in size—a typical one being 1.3 metres high, a metre wide, with around 75 lines inscribed on each side—and is housed in a separate open-sided mini-pagoda around three metres in height. The version of Buddhist scriptures on these stelae is the result of a large editing project—a recension—commissioned in the mid-nineteenth century by Myanmar’s penultimate king Mindon (reigned 1853–1878). This recension was later orally recited by 2,400 monks in the "Fifth Buddhist Council" in 1871. It is highly likely that Mindon initiated these projects as part of his attempt to consolidate Buddhism as the state religion and ensure its centrality to the identity of the Myanmar people in the face of the threat of British territorial ambitions in Myanmar. The Kuthodaw Pagoda continues to be an iconic and nationally recognized place of devotion for Myanmar’s Buddhist majority. The status and international significance of this site was recognized publicly in 2013 with its acceptance on UNESCO’s "Memory of the World" register.
Despite its importance, the Kuthodaw Pagoda has not received a great deal of scholarly attention. However, in 2013 a group of scholars from the University of Sydney and Nan Tien Institute, Wollongong, established the Kuthodaw Pagoda Project with the aim of photographing, documenting and studying the Kuthodaw Pagoda site and its inscriptions. The primary team consists of Mark Allon, Tamara Ditrich, Chris Clark, Wendy Reade, Royce Wiles, Ian McCrabb and Bob Hudson. This Australian based team has worked closely with several groups based in Mandalay, including conservators from the Mandalay branch of the government Department of Archaeology, professional photographers, and monastic scholars from the Sitagu International Academy. Funded by a three-year grant (2014–2016) from Chuo Academic Research Institute of Rissho Kosei-kai, Japan, to date this project has completed a full conservation assessment, cleaned all stelae, undertaken site maintenance, taken digital photographs of all stelae and, here, mounted these photographs onto an open access online database. Currently, stelae text is being transliterated by monastic scholars from the Sitagu International Academy and a preliminary study of the status of this recension is being undertaken. Future plans include a detailed study of the recension and the production of a comprehensive and accurate account of the history of the Kuthodaw Pagoda site within the broader context of the history of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia.
Besides the 729 Pali language stelae, there are 4 additional Burmese language stelae. This online database contains images of all 733 stelae. Three digital photographs were taken for both sides of each stela: the whole stela, the upper half and the lower half. The images of half a stela provide more detail for a closer reading. Each image has associated metadata, including the stela number, side (A or B), image framing (whole, upper half, or lower half) and section of the Pali canon to which the inscribed text belongs.
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Republic of the Union of Myanmar
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